TL;DR – We need many different strategies working together.
Earlier we wrote a piece about the state of Singapore’s economy. That piece attracted some rather interesting comments on our Facebook page.
The comments suggest that we were wrong to encourage people to upgrade themselves, to deepen their skills, and to learn different skills that would allow them to move into different industries. Instead, the comments suggest that the government should just put in measures to support all those who have been retrenched.
So, it’s all the government’s fault?
After all, all these problems are caused by the government! It’s the government’s fault for not telling Singaporeans that the economy will change, that some sectors will be made irrelevant by technology or from competition by other countries. The government should have told us 20, or 30 years ago what subjects we should study, what skills we should have.
The government should never have allowed us to become complacent and be retrenched. It’s the government’s duty to ensure that we get to work in the same job for our entire lives, doing the same thing but keep getting raises after raises year after year. The government should have done something to stop other countries (e.g. China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam) from industrialising and competing with us.
And now that the government has failed us, how dare they tell us that we need to go through the pain of retraining? And then having to accept a lower pay even after retraining? That’s just adding insult to injury!
So because the government has failed, they need to put in the social safety nets! Those social safety nets should ensure that those who are retrenched don’t need to go for retraining and still are able to get their last drawn salary! Was that what Moses was suggesting?
No… We can’t leave everything to the government…
Surely that cannot be the case.
We agree with Syed that retraining is difficult. It takes time and effort. It costs money. In the mean time, there are still bills to be paid, mouths to feed. We also agree with Moses that often, even after retraining, people will not be able to earn as much as they did before.
But, consider the alternative.
There are jobs that are lost through technological shifts and disruptions and these jobs won’t ever come back. There are some sectors that just cannot survive in Singapore. If you worked in those jobs or sectors, and you are retrenched, chances are you won’t ever be able to get back to those jobs. What then? If you don’t pick up new skills to get into different jobs in a different sector, you are likely to be unemployed for a very long time.
Or you will end up in a dead-end job that pays far less. And even then, you might just find yourself jobless again if this industry moves out of Singapore to somewhere else cheaper.
How is that better than going for retraining? At least if you’ve gone for retraining, you have a better chance of moving into growing sectors. You could have a decent chance of some upward mobility. Surely that’s much better than moping around and ranting about the government, right?
Of course, the government can do more…
Just because we didn’t say anything in earlier articles doesn’t mean that we don’t think the government can do more. These are complex issues. How is it possible to cover everything in a few articles? Those won’t be blog posts or articles anymore. They would be a policy documents, white papers, research thesis.
Yes. We have been advocating very hard for skills upgrading and retraining. Because we firmly believe that retraining MUST be part of the solution. And all of us should continually deepen our skills and pick up new skills. Why have we singled out this part to write so much about?
Because it’s something that’s within our control and we can actually up and go do something about it.
That said, we do think that the government can consider more ways of providing some form of financial support for those who are undergoing retraining to transition from one sector to another.
The Professional Conversion Programmes (PCP) and the Career Support Programme (CSP) are a good start. If you’re not familiar with these programmes, we encourage you to check them out, you might be surprised that there’re already some initaitives to support upgrading, including self-sponsored studies. But there can be even more and even broader support for more Singaporeans.
The retraining and upgrading issue becomes even tricker when it comes to mature workers. Retraining probably cannot help everyone, as there might be a small handful of older workers who find it hard to pick up new skills no matter how hard they try. There might also be some older workers who find themselves being passed over for interviews and jobs despite having gone through retraining.
Like it or not, ageism exists in our society. Which is quite a ridiculous thing. With an average lifespan of 82 in Singapore, why would anyone consider a worker in his 40s or 50s a mature worker who cannot contribute anymore? And we can find lots of excellent workers in their 60s and beyond. This is something we can all do something about, if we can all change our mindset about older workers, especially those of us in hiring positions, then things will be better for these older workers. Remember, one placed is one less helpless.
That doesn’t mean that retraining is all for naught. For instance, some industries are facing severe manpower shortages. The healthcare industry is one. It will need another 10,000 healthcare workers in the next three years. And this is one industry that is relatively welcoming towards mature workers. You can read about how Mr Khoo Liang Teck, a taxi driver of 15 years, made a switch to nursing at the age of 50.
We’re not sure exactly what the government can do here, maybe look into how better to ensure equal employment opportunities, penalise businesses that discriminate based on age, or perhaps take the lead by hiring older workers in the public sector.
Moving on, we certainly do think that more can be done for the elderly. Especially those in the lower income groups. We think that there is room for the payouts for the Silver Support Scheme to be increased.
On the other end of the spectrum, the government can also do more for children in low income families. We think the KidSTART initiative should be expanded more aggressively. We hope to see the initiative move beyond the pilot and expand to the whole of Singapore soon.
Let’s have meaningful conversations
There are a whole lot more areas that the government can look into that we haven’t mentioned. From foreign labour to infrastructural development, from attracting foreign direct investments to support for growing business, from building affordable housing to creating liveable spaces, from re-assessing our education system to supporting adult training, there are so many areas that can be improved on. And as much as the government should bear its share of the responsibility, we, as individuals, should contribute in our own ways too.
No one has a monopoly on good ideas. And good ideas can be made better with rich and in-depth discussions with diverse perspectives. In order for these discussions to be meaningful, we need to start from a position where we trust that, though our opinions differ, our intentions are aligned – we want Singapore to improve and Singaporeans to have better lives and a brighter future.